As I wrote in Actions are louder than words I read 40 books last year. I’ve been asked a few times how I manage to read so much and how I take notes. Over the last year, I changed and tweaked my system for this quite a bit, so I thought I would share my current system.
Tracking what you read
I’ll be covering a few apps for my phone (and I use iOS). I expect there will be similar applications for Android or other phones, but I don’t know for sure.
I use GoodReads to track the list of books that I want to read and have read. They have an app which makes it more convenient to do this when I’m away from my computer. For the last few years, I have been taking up their annual reading challenge which gives you some stats as to how many books and pages you’ve read along with your ratings and what others have given. This is quite helpful but doesn’t directly help to keep you on track.
Around June of 2019, I began to use the Leio reading app. Firstly, it allows you to time your reading sessions. In conjunction with learning your reading habits, it predicts when you are likely to finish a given book.
It tracks various statistics to show you your reading pace, and how many pages and books you read over time. One of the most useful features allows you to set a reading goal for either a scheduled amount of time or a planned number of pages each day. Then on its planner view, it shows you your target and what else you need to do that day to complete it. It’s an excellent way to stay on track.
The basic features are free if you only read one book at a time. If you have multiple books on the go, which I always do, then it’s a one-off fee to unlock unlimited books.
You can also record notes and quotes, and the page number it relates to. If you choose to pay a small monthly or yearly subscription fee, you can unlock the OCR function. The feature enables you to snap a photo of the page, and it will convert it to text. You can obviously export all your notes and quotes. It’s handy to standardise your notes in one place whether you’re reading an ebook or a paper book. Speaking of ebooks–it also has a feature to specify it’s an ebook and lets you choose how you record progress; by page number, location, or percentage.
I tend only to record quotes rather than notes since I take notes using Mindnode.
You might be surprised to hear that Mindnode is how I take notes. At first glance, it seems like it would be unwieldy and inconvenient, but in practice, I’ve found the exact opposite.
Previously I’ve talked about how I take notes. My practice has now evolved to incorporate Mindnode. Generally, with most books, I start out adding the chapter headings as the first spokes in the map. I find that grouping the topics as the author intended helps to give me a sense of the book and where it’s going.
I also add an Actions node which is where I consolidate actions I want to take. These are added as todo items in Mindnode which I can later export to Omnifocus.
As I read the book, I add notes and thoughts as nodes and add connections. Typically, I’ll add something short and concise as the node which forces me to think about how to word it. Then, in the notes on the node, I’ll jot the page number and sometimes add additional information. Now, you might think that is where it’s inconvenient to have to type lots on your phone’s keyboard. You can certainly do that, but I have found that the iOS dictation feature works really well for this. All you have to do is get over talking to yourself out loud while you’re reading.
The only thing which I miss from my hand-written book notes is categorising the entries, e.g. Main Idea, Supporting Idea and so on. I tried using my annotation scheme, i.e. MI or SI but speaking these just doesn’t work well, so I let that go. However, fortuitously, as I was writing this article, Mindnode 7 was released with the addition of tags, which solves this problem. I’ve added the annotations as tags, and it’s trivial to mark a note with a tag.
Summarising my notes and taking action
My theme for 2020 is intentionality. With that in mind, I need to improve how I review and revisit books and their ideas. While I do plan to read some new books, I intend to visit books I’ve read before. It will be an interesting exercise to take a separate set of notes and then compare against my previous notes. Hopefully, I will make some new connections and see how my notes-taking has improved. Instead of repeating my mistake in past years by racing straight onto the next book, I will summarise my notes and thoughts by writing a book note on my site. I will only begin the next book once I have published the note and put at least one lesson from the book into action.
Regular book note reviews
Finally, I’ll be more proactive using my book review reminders to re-read my book notes to reabsorb the lessons. I have rarely done this to date because I haven’t taken the time to clean up and organise my notes into a concise summary that is easily reviewable. I also plan to put more of the lessons into action periodically using the review periods to serve as a reminder.